If you’re like me (God help you) you feel like you need to earn your spot on earth through work. This has an upside – you’re very disciplined, you get a lot done. It also has a pretty serious downside – it’s very difficult to truly relax.
When you’re an artist, however, the ability to “relax” plays a very important part of your work. This makes the line between working and relaxing is a lot more fungible than if you’re, say, an accountant. It’s one of those lessons people like me continually have to re-learn.
I have been very busy lately. The reasons for this are mostly really good. I am a playwright, and I had a production of a night of one-acts in New York in November and a new play in Cincinnati in January. Both involved new scripts, which meant I was fairly heavily involved in rehearsal. In addition to this, I am doing freelance textbook editing, raising a 7-year-old-child, and starting an MFA at a university two hours from my home. Said MFA program required a 20-page-paper and an hour-long presentation on Ibsen’s Ghosts two days after I returned from my play opening in Cincinnati.
Oh, and my wife is away at the O’Neill center for a week.
I’m a little tired.
This morning, after I took my son to school, I came home and collapsed. A big chunk of work from my freelance gig had arrived on my digital doorstep but I was too exhausted to face it. Instead, I went to Starbucks. And I sat there, in one of those comfy leather chairs with a cup of dark roast coffee, a blueberry muffin, and a book. The book is Robert Graves’ wonderful memoir, Goodbye to All That. It’s been so long since I’ve enjoyed reading anything so much.
Then I went home. I had been listening to an interview in the car where both the interviewer and interviewee talked of blues legend Howlin’ Wolf as one of the greatest artists ever. So I went on YouTube and watched a series of amazing performances by him. I was smiling and stomping my feet in my little office.
Later, I got up to ride our exercise bicycle. I picked out an Iranian film from my Netflix queue called About Elly…. It was an earlier film from the director of A Separation, which I had loved. I loved every minute of it. It’s beautifully shot, extraordinarily well-acted film.
I was having the most wonderful day!
And then I realized – I was having a wonderful day because I was taking in all this art. This book, this music, this film. When I get really busy, anything that isn’t work or family gets shoved aside as frivolous. But when I do this, I become thin and brittle. Irritable. A person I don’t like very much.
I have chosen to devote a great deal of my life to making art. To deprive myself of art so that I can make it is like starving myself to live. Yet I do it again and again.
When I was reading and listening and watching today, in my head I saw the image of water falling on parched soil. That water brought me such joy. Here’s to hoping I don’t let it get so parched next time.